In 2013 the world was devastated by an apocalyptic event, annihilating almost all mankind and turning the earth’s surface into a poisonous wasteland. A handful of survivors took refuge in the depths of the Moscow underground, and human civilization entered a new Dark Age.
You are Artyom, born in the last days before the fire, but raised Underground. Having never ventured beyond your Metro Station-City limits, one fateful event sparks a desperate mission to the heart of the Metro system, to warn the remnants of mankind of a terrible impending threat. Your journey takes you from the forgotten catacombs beneath the subway to the desolate wastelands above, where your actions will determine the fate of mankind.
WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm David Langeliers, and I'm creative manager at THQ.
WP: We've gotten through the first three hours of the game at this press event. It's an FPS, but its pace is heavier on the story and gives it a really distinct pace rather than just rushing you forward. It's not just action, action, action. What was the decision behind structuring the gameplay that way?
DL: This game is based on a Russian novel that is not published in English yet, but it's coming next month. That was really the main motivation. We didn't want to make a regular shooter where we're going to just give you the regular formula. We really wanted to bring the story together as much as possible. The developer's in Ukraine, and they're all huge fans of the novel. They're the ones who brought it to us, and they're the ones who talked to the author. That was really the focus for the whole thing: bring as much of the narrative and as much of the story as possible to the forefront.
WP: If we understand correctly, some of the developers at 4A Games, who are developing the title, also worked on S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl before they formed this company. In terms of character and story line, what makes it a Ukrainian or Russian game versus an American or Japanese game?
DL: 4A Games is based in Ukraine so they see a lot of the disparity firsthand, and that's why they're such fans of the novel. That's what allows them to create this in such a realistic sense. They have firsthand experience of how it is over there, how the people are , and it's really just them being able to identify with the author and understanding his fiction to a really high level.
WP: What about localizing that for the U.S. audience? How do you convey the proper tone without seeming too foreign?
DL: We worked to make the game palatable for American audiences. It's difficult, but at the same time, we made strides to stick within the narrative. They also have a very good feel of the human nature of the book. These aren't characters who are all action heroes. They're regular people, and while there are cultural differences between Russia, America and Ukraine, in the end, we all have the same basic feelings, and they're very good at identifying the core sensibilities in the book and translating that into the gameplay.
WP: I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you're not fluent in reading and writing Russian. Working on the publisher side, what kind of challenge was it knowing that the book hadn't been translated yet? You've got a Ukrainian team developing it and working on their own script. What efforts have you made to ensure that when the game is finished and the English translation of the book is finished, that they're somewhat in sync and you haven't gone off in two different directions based on interpretation?
DL: There are a couple of things that wrap into that. For one, we had the author, Dmitriy Glukhovskiy, working very closely with the team to ensure that the narrative was very close to what his vision of it is. The team did face some problems with wanting to get all the fiction of the novel into the game, but at the same time, the game still has to be interesting and fun for audiences of all cultures. We went through a long process of bringing down the core of the narrative and having that be the critical path to the player. We also tried fitting in all the little elements that the author enjoyed and the developers enjoyed and having these still available to the player if they go interact with NPCs, if they go read the posters on the wall, if they dig a little deeper into the game, they're still going to get these extra pieces of fiction. If you play the game, we also went to great lengths to find some voice actors who are English speakers but still have authentic Russian accents for those of us who want to play through the game and hear English. At the same time, we're also including the actual Russian voice-over on the disc and allowing you to have English subtitles. If you want the fully authentic experience of what this would actually be like in the Metro tunnels, it's there for you.
WP: In terms of the fiction and universe, you have gone to great lengths to keep authenticity. You've got Russian voice-overs, as well as English voice-overs and English subtitles. The writing on the walls and the posters are in Russian, yet you made the decision to include copies of the Metro 2033 book in the game universe. Is that some sort of inside joke, or was there a reason for doing that?
DL: The novel has become extremely popular in Russia, and it's currently being translated in just about every language on the planet. It's going to be released in English just before the game. We don't just want people to play the game and not read the book or read the book and not play the game. If they play the game, we want them to look for more fiction in the book, and vice versa. If they read the book, we want them to play the game and get the experience of what they've read. We're having them experience both sides of it, encouraging the reading and the playing of the game, to get it to all meld together into one large universe that they can experience.
WP: You're showing the game on the Xbox 360, but the PC version of the game also supports Nvidia's stereoscopic 3-D. What was the decision behind that? A lot of companies are throwing in 3-D now because it's a big buzzword. What makes the 3-D element part of the gameplay and not just an extra feature to check off on the box?
DL: To begin with, the game is very atmospheric, and it's all about setting and atmosphere. Already, that creates a very vivid experience that just draws you in when it's in 3-D. At the same time, with the technology we have now with Nvidia and the amount of power that we can pull out of these video cards, we're able to model just about every little object and every little detail in the game. When you're working with 3-D, it's the polygons that pop out. It's everything that's modeled that works in the world in 3-D, and the developer went to great lengths to make absolutely everything in the world modeled in actual 3-D so that if you're viewing it in 3-D, everything is going to pop out of the world. You're not going to see something like a texture that has fake 3-D, where shadows are built into the texture. Everything is modeled completely so that everything will pop when you're viewing it in 3-D.
WP: Speaking of models and visuals, in Metro 2033, some of the mutants make you wonder, how did you guys come up with such twisted, god-forsaken creatures?
DL: A large part of it was the novel. It was almost easy for the team to pull from the novel to be able to develop these creatures. At the same time, we looked at all of them, and we wanted to make them intimidating and have the player always feel like he's always being attacked and enclosed, this very claustrophobic feeling. It's very meticulous work. If something's rushing at you, we want its claws to be sharp, we want its teeth to be strong, but we want them to look oddly familiar. They're not just some weird monster, but they're mutations of previous creatures that roamed the Earth. That's where they came from and that's what their roots are, so they'll look oddly familiar, but at the same time, they're going to look absolutely terrifying compared to what you're normally used to.
WP: The development team also made an effort to keep as many UI elements off the screen as possible. You've integrated them into the character design. Can you talk a little bit about that decision and why you chose to break away from convention?
DL: We worked really hard. Almost every weapon in the game will show you the ammo count. One of the very first weapons you're going to get in the game is the bastard gun because it's made in the Metro systems, it's got very poor accuracy and it overheats very much. The clip loads from the side, and you can see the ammo count as it's spitting out of the rifle. The reason we've done this is to minimize the head's up display, like you said, but it's more to draw the player into the experience as much as possible. The less HUD you have, the more they're just going to be drawn into the world that they see on-screen. That's what we shot for: absolute immersion as much as possible.
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Metro 2033 a game that's worth playing?
DL: It's an absolutely unique story based on an excellent novel, and you're going to see a setting and atmosphere that are completely unique and you've never seen before. Compared to most first-person shooters that are based on action, you're going to see something different here. It's very unique in the story aspect.
WP: As for platforms, you've shown Metro 2033 on the Xbox 360 and PC, but nothing on the PlayStation 3. What was the rationale behind that?
DL: 4A Games is a new studio, and while they are working on multiplatform technology, it just wasn't quite ready at the time. We didn't want to do a port that was going to feel lackluster compared to the other versions. That was really the reasoning behind the PS3. We are still working toward that end; they're working very hard toward PS3 technology, and we're hoping that in the future, we'll be able to provide a complete, solid product that feels the same on every platform, no matter what you play it on.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
DL: I just hope everybody enjoys the game. Get out there and play it. It's something very different, very unique, and we hope you enjoy the story, soak in the universe, and see it for what it is.
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